William Faulkner ‘barn Burning’: a Review

Published 13 Jun 2017

William Faulkner is arguably one of the all time best-seller writers; as his works have influenced the art of writing in many ways contributing its conceptual style to stories easy to read and understand. Alas! Such understanding does not just come without an appreciation of the contemporary issues surrounding the writings. In this case, Faulkner was born and spent most of his life in Mississippi, where he developed deep-seated contempt for the dichotomy that exists between rich landowning boss and the poor farmers that use the lands. This informed the theme of the book: Barn Burning.

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The story is compact with slang languages used in such contemporary times; it is loaded with racism and offensive statements that cut the mind of its readers. It puts the heart of heart of the poor American to rest over issues that he thinks are peculiar to him, giving him hope in the midst of it all. He spells out basic moralities that should be indulged in human relations of such lives, beaming vivid lights of reality of the common poor American farmer in each line.

The mastery of Faulkner was once put into words in the story ‘Barn Burning’. His style is laden with explanations that clear issues in the mind of the read. The story is interesting with fast paced events connected to each other in a simple and easy-to-grasp approach. His expositions clear doubts and answer questions, while his synchronous presentation slowly walks the reader from the first page to the last statement.

‘Barn Burning’ shares the misery of the poor American farmer in the local community, and also the moral contradiction that can exist between child and parent. This is evident in the story by the consistent but mild contradictory moral beliefs existing between Sartoris Snopes and his father, Abner Snopes. This particular theme ruled the scenes of the short story, as the young adolescent enters the court hoping that he will not have to testify in the arson case against his father.

The Snopes family is the focus of the story. At the beginning, the young man Sarty Snopes stands outside the store where his father is about to be tried for an arson case, for burning Harris’s Barn. Mr. Harris suggests that the Justice calls the child to stand to be cross examined. After the Justice gets the young man’s name and calls him out, Mr. Harris rejects the proposal to question the young chap. At the end, the case is dismissed for lack of evidence and all leave the trial venue. Here, someone accuse Abner as ‘Barn Burner’ and this leads to a fight between Sarty and the fellow. Sarty is wounded and his mother attempts to clean his bloody face.

Moreover, by virtue of the judgment, Abner and his family are asked to leave the town, but before the departure Abner has an important message for his perceived disobedient child who does not show loyalty to the family: ‘You got to learn to stick to your own blood or you ain’t going to have any blood to stick to you’ Faulkner, page 218-19]. That is the concluding message before their departure to the new town.

In all of these, Sarty is not satisfied with the indulgence of his father in barn burning at the spark of anger. But he has a problem: he could not find a medium to express his dissatisfaction or be bold enough to say it. This tension is going to be expressed soon, against his father’s wish.

They arrive in the new town down south where the land owner is the rich Major De Spain where ‘people who lives are a part of this peace and dignity are behind his touch, he no more to them than a buzzing wasp: capable of stinging for a little moment but that’s all; the spell of peace and dignity rendering even the barns and stable and cribs which belong to it impervious to the puny flames he might contrive, says Sarty’ [Faulkner, ]

After an unprecedented visit to De Spain’s apartment by Abner and his son, he is accused of wrongful doing; staining his rug with. It is intentional. He is guilty of the offence and fined $5 to be paid from his earning on the farm.

He refuses to pay but with a worse agenda: to set the De Spain’s barn ablaze by kerosene fire. Sarty runs to warn De Spain who shoots and kills Abner.

In the entire story, the remarkable aspects are spelt out with the beautiful rendition of the tension that existed between Abner and his son, Sarty. This tension is about moral values which appear to contradict in their relations with each other, and in other life situations. This was notice Abner and prompted his advice to Sarty ‘to stick to his own blood’.

To the young chap, there is also a psychological imbalance as the child has developed grudging respect for his father based on what he perceived in his father as ‘…a feeling that his ferocious conviction in the rightness of his own actions would be of advantage to all whose interest lies with his'[Faulkner, page 218-19].

He wants to be loyal to the course of the family, but to a credible cause that would not cause him sorrow and begin to exclaim, ‘ He aims for me to lie, he thought and I will have to do it’ [Faulkner, 217]. He really desires the kind of life but he is baffled at the feeling in his father’s convictions which totally contradict his.

What make it worse is the fact He finds no avenue to express such, all he results into is grudging respect in the family, and ‘safety warning’ to those that would be affected by this disastrous anger of his obstinate father.

Really, this indeed depicts the prevailing situation in those days, 1930’s -1940’s wherein the poor farmers have children they expect to be totally subservient to then, even in the pursuit of their deadly ambitions loaded with hatred for benign land lords.

Although, the story focus on the Snores, it brings out the point where the child has no room to express himself or herself even in the face of impending danger. This reveals, to an extent, how communication problems emerge from the family setting where young Sarty now become aware that his ‘old blood which he had not been permitted to choose for himself[Faulkner, page 227]. There, he finds freedom to live a better life than his father did.


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